The mood of the first ever race at the Baku street circuit can be summed up by this quote – “If it is, it is, If it’s not, it’s not.”
It was apt for Mercedes as they had a mixed weekend with one car performing to its optimum while the other struggled to keep up the pace and was fortunate to finish fifth. Nico Rosberg had the perfect weekend – Pole, led all the laps and the fastest lap, the result of which, he leads the championship race by 24 points.
Lewis Hamilton struggled and never looked at scoring a podium place right from the start. The blitz with which Mercedes could get away in those high speed and slow corners was missing with Hamilton’s machine as he took time to get past the drivers.
Once the Brit reached the fifth place, he remained stuck in that position and lost ground consistently to the pack ahead. It appeared, he started the race with a technical glitch, unfortunate, yes, however, the question needs to be asked, how did it happen to one car, while the other car appeared flawless.
With regards to the strategy, it was an unknown territory for all the teams. Vettel went past Daniel Ricciardo with ease on the longest straight in F1 calendar. That move for Vettel would secure him the second place.
Many teams led by the Red Bull duo pitted in as early as the fifth lap. Vettel stayed on as did the leader Rosberg. Vettel and Rosberg stretched their super soft tyres for 20 laps before switching them for Pirelli soft tyres.
However, the highlight was neither Nico Rosberg’s victory, nor Vettel’s impressive second – it was Chico Perez’ third place that delighted the crowd and a lot of F1 fans.
Sergio Perez was my driver of the race. After messing up in the free practice, which forced his team to replace his gear box that earned the five place grid penalty. The Mexican had a spectacular qualifying that put him on P2 and in the race, he held off Hamilton and then made a pass on Kimi Raikkonen, to score a well deserved third place, his second podium in three races.
Many F1 pundits predicted safety car at some stage of the race after they witnessed the chaos in the morning GP2 race. Street circuits have a higher probability of deploying the marshall car as accidents are a common occurrence.
The maiden race at the Baku Street Circuit was devoid of any incidents (considering there were many on Friday and Saturday) and panned out to be one of the cleanest races this season.
“I think for sure a little bit the experience helps in that case. We’re all much more experienced and we’re able to avoid the incidents better and we also learned a lot from what was going on in the GP2 for sure, because we were watching and that was mayhem so I think we picked up a few things there as well and that’s it, but very surprising anyways,” Rosberg said at the post-race press conference when asked about the no safety car.
Overall, the race turned out to be a great advertisement for the city and for F1, as the track offered something new, challenging for teams and drivers.
The lack of safety car ensured there was no drama barring from Hamilton’s constant rants to his team engineer on the radio. The new regulations which prevent the engineers to assist drivers through radio didn’t help Hamilton to correct the wrong technical settings. In a way, the rule is exciting as drivers no longer are spoon-fed with technical data- corrections and drivers have to figure out for themselves on track.
Speaking about the championships, the race was crucial for Rosberg to hold an advantage over Hamilton in the driver’s standings. His 19 race wins till date is the most by any F1 driver sans world championship. It would be a surprise if he retires from the sport without a title. It could be this year for the German, and for that he needs more wins like today.
The next race is in Austria, the home territory of the Red Bull. Though, the Mercedes starts as favourites (again), this season has shown Ferrari and Red Bull can challenge the German team with favourable conditions and effective strategy.
Interestingly, it remains to be seen how would Lewis Hamilton fare in his bid to retain the driver championship. It is a long season, however, with Hamilton as a teammate, from Rosberg’s perspective, it is his championship to lose this season from here on.
The race result below:
|3||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||51||+25.241s||15|
|7||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||51||+69.229s||6|
|8||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||51||+70.696s||4|
|9||27||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||51||+77.708s||2|
|12||12||SAUBER FERRARI||50||+1 lap||0|
|13||8||HAAS FERRARI||50||+1 lap||0|
|16||21||HAAS FERRARI||50||+1 lap||0|
|17||9||SAUBER FERRARI||50||+1 lap||0|
|18||88||MRT MERCEDES||49||+2 laps||0|
|NC||55||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||31||DNF||0|
|NC||26||TORO ROSSO FERRARI||6||DNF||0|